Analyzing the NIH Alumni Database: Where are our NIH postdocs going?

March 13, 2017

In the OITE we are often asked about the career paths of former postdocs. While we do not conduct mandatory exit surveys, we do have some data from the OITE NIH Alumni Database. This database is populated as fellows leave the NIH. To date it contains about 1100 entries. Of those, 639 contain career information that we have been able to analyze. Caveat: this information is only from former trainees who have voluntarily created entries in the database; it does not capture the full range nor percentage of actual career paths*.

PDAlum Figure 1
We began by comparing data on our intramural research program (IRP) alumni to the data published in the 2012 NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group Report (BWF). This report analyzed a post-training workforce of 128,000 people in terms of six categories. Academic Research/Teaching accounted for 43% of the workforce, followed by Science-Related, non-Research (individuals employed by industry, government, non-profits who do not conduct research) and Industrial Research at 18% each. The Non-Science-Related workforce employed 13%, and Government Research accounted for an additional 6%. Two percent reported they were unemployed.
In Figure 1 we show that fractions of IRP alumni who have continued in Academic/Research Teaching (39%) and Industrial Research (14%) were similar to those in the national BWF survey. However, far more IRP alumni continued in Government Research (15% of NIH IRP vs 6% in the national survey) and Science-Related, non-Research (33% of NIH IRP vs 18% for the national survey) careers, while far fewer went on to careers in non-Science-Related professions (< 1% vs 13%). No one in our alumni database reported that they were unemployed.
Our percentage of alumni staying in government research is higher than the national average (15% vs. 6%). This is not surprising that some fellows choose to stay as staff scientists or become tenure track within the IRP. The information of what careers are considered non-science related was difficult to find. Our analysis of alumni careers suggests that science-related non-research careers are more common than the national average.
Dissecting the Academic Research/Teaching data provides us with more information about what types of positions are held in this sector, Figure 2.

PDAlum Figure 2

This category includes only positions directly associated with research or teaching; careers in academic institutions in offices such as tech transfer, policy, academic affairs, etc. are counted in the Science-Related, Non-Research category. Three-quarters of alumni in this sector are in academic tenure-track or tenured positions. In fact 192 total alumni in the database are tenured or tenure track faculty (185 are in academics and 7 in government research). From this data we predict that 30% of IRP alumni have tenured or tenure track faculty positions.
The data for the Science-Related Non-research careers demonstrates the breadth of career options that are available for PhD-trained scientists, Figure 3. We binned careers based on the job titles that were submitted to the alumni database. Discerning the exact jobs of the 25% of reported careers in program management/analysis is challenging. The titles range from program coordinator to manager, director and advisor. Similarly, it is very likely that the 5% of alumni that report working in grants (as program officers, analysts, or review) is low due to the lack of precision in the job titles within the program management/analysis category. The data still provide evidence that program administration (making sure that science runs) is a common career choice. Science policy is a career path selected by 20% NIH of reported alumni. These careers are in all sectors, but are mainly spilt between the Federal government and non-profits (i.e., professional societies). Other career choices reflected in Figure 3 show the breath of career choices for NIH postdocs.

PDAlum Figure 3

If you want any addiional information about the careers in these categories we suggest that you explore the alumni database. As a current fellow with an OITE account you can search the database: https://www.training.nih.gov/alumni. Additionally, you can use the contact information in the alumni database to set up informational interviews as you plan your career post-NIH.
In 2017 we hope you will help us with this data project! Are you an NIH alum? If so, join the database or update your earlier submission. Last year around 800 people logged-in to the database and updated their information. But we still have too many gaps. 460 postdocs, for example, have an alumni database account that include no information about their current position. Only have ~20% of our postdocs* actually contribute to the database. The OITE really does want to know where you are! Current and future postdocs want to be able to see career trends and how training at the NIH might influence their career choices. So join the database or update your record now: https://www.training.nih.gov/alumni/register
*The database was built in June 2010. We estimate that 800 postdocs per year leave the NIH. Therefore the maximum sample size could be ~5200 alumni. With 1100 reporting that represents 21.2% of the potential sample size.

To learn about the full range of services and programs offered by the Office of Intramural Training and Education, visit us at https://www.training.nih.gov.

 


Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer

February 28, 2017

One of the most important criteria to consider during the job, graduate school, or Postdoc search is to learn about the culture of the place where you are applying.   This means to gather information about the employee’s opinions of the work environment, the support and benefits that they receive, and the values that drive the organization. This is important because you will work and /or study in this environment for many years and you want to find a good fit for your interests and personal style.  But how do you assess this when you are applying?

Step 1: Learn about and list your values

  • Factor in your personal and work values into your career decision. For example, if you value work where you have multiple work assignments, a culture that values family, work-life balance, opportunities to publish, and/or working in an urban environment, then these will become the criteria that you use when considering multiple options.
  • Meet with a career counselor who will help you to identify a broad range of important work values through the use of career assessments around values, interests and skills

Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values

  • Look for a mission and/or value statements
  • Read the job description carefully for words that give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, wording such as collaborative, team, independently, diverse, fast-paced, results oriented, balance multiple priorities, etc. shed light upon the nature of the work environment.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni, colleagues, PIs, Postdocs, etc. Connect via Linked In who are familiar with the organization.
  • Listen to what your mentors and colleagues say about the organization.
  • Attend the NIH Career Symposium or the 2017 NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair so that you can meet NIH Alumni, current employees, and recruitment professionals who will give informational sessions and answer specific questions about their environment.
  • Explore employer surveys such as the ones posted on the AAAS , Corporate Quality IndexThe Scientist, Science Magazine.

Step 3:  Listen closely during your interview

  • Listen carefully to the questions that are asked during an interview. Is there a common thread that gives you some insight?
  • How were you treated when you arrived to the interview? Who greeted you, were they pleasant, outgoing, distant, stressed?
  • Was the host(s) welcoming, approachable, resourceful?
  • Were there any specific qualifications that the interviewer stated about their culture (i.e. fast-paced, long days, independent, work interdependently, cultural diversity)?

Step 4:  Ask Good Questions during the Interview

  • Ask interviewers to describe the environment.
  • Learn about opportunities for professional development.
  • Ask if employees work as a team, independently, collaboratively.
  • Ask the employers to describe a typical week.
  • Ask about work-life balance.

Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:

  • Ask faculty and students to describe the culture?
  • Learn how the curriculum structured and how students study.
  • Review OITE blogs to learn how to select a mentor.
  • Attend the second look (medical schools) and or pre-matriculation program.
  • Learn about opportunities to become involved in the community.
  • Ask about students support services are available to support wellness.
  • Are there special interest groups or student organizations? Where do participants live? Is there family housing and partner benefits?
  • How is research, conference and publishing encouraged?
  • Determine how the school /department supports diversity and inclusion.

Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity

  • List the places where you are applied on the left column.
  • Write your personal values on the top row.
  • Place a check mark and any comments in each box for each organization.
  • Analyze your results to determine which organizations one(s) have the most values.
  • Note the organizations that have the closest match to your values.
  • Factor into any additional criteria.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with career counselors, Premedical school advisors, and wellness counselors who can further support you during this process.  Also see our events and services.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.

 


Want to be 10% Happier?

October 10, 2016

Front image of the book by Dan Harris "10% Happier"Dan Harris is a correspondent for ABC News, an anchor for the show Nightline, a meditation skeptic turned believer, and the author of the book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works – a True Story.

After an on-air panic attack in 2004, Harris went on a journey to figure out why he had been experiencing panic attacks.  Part of this journey led him to discover the benefits of meditation and he now wants to spread the word.

His promise is not grand. He doesn’t claim meditation will solve all of your problems, but he does believe it will make you 10% happier. 

In this video, Harris talks about how he started small with just five minutes of meditation a day and he is really honest about his experience with it.  He notes that in the beginning it didn’t seem awesome and actually felt like a waste of time.

Are you interested in exploring meditation?

At OITE, we are no strangers to this topic. We have written about the benefits of incorporating mindfulness into your day here on this blog, and we even have a weekly meditation group which meets every Thursday.

If you are not at the NIH, you might want to check out Dan’s book and podcast to help you get started with meditating.


How to Beat the Sunday Blues

May 2, 2016

Image of a sad-looking puppy with the words "I got the Sunday Night Blues"If you have a Monday through Friday job, then at some point in your career you have probably experienced the “Sunday Blues.” It often starts around Sunday afternoon with a slightly depressed feeling that your weekend is coming to a close. Along with sadness often comes an uptick in your level of anxiety thinking about Monday morning and the week ahead.

Sound familiar?

Many people think they are the only one who suffers from a feeling of depression/anxiety on Sunday, but this happens to a lot of people…even people who report that they generally like their jobs. Sometimes, even school children report this feeling of dread on Sundays.

Therapists and Sunday Blues sufferers have some recommendations on way you can help combat this weekly affliction. Here are some things to try out:

  1. Identify your Sunday Blues pattern.
    Recognizing that this is a common experience for many is one thing, but try assessing your own patterns and how your own anxiety/depression tends to manifests itself. Perhaps you feel lethargic or easily irritated? How have you been coping with these feelings? As with most things, the first step is having enough self-awareness to recognize that this is an issue for you.
  2. Is there an underlying issue?
    Sometimes the Sunday Blues seem like a general malaise about work, but it could also be indicative of something more. Sometimes the Sunday Blues are a natural dip in the weekly rhythm of life; however, you might be more prone to this weekly affliction if you suffer from depression and anxiety in general. The Sunday dreads could also indicate a work dynamic that needs to be addressed, whether that is a conflict with somebody in your office or the realization that you are unsatisfied and need to move on from your current job.
  3. Start preparing on Friday.
    Before you leave work on Friday, make a Monday morning to do list. Knowing that you took some time to get yourself organized for the next week can help you to feel less stressed when you get to work on Monday morning. Similarly, you might want to change your errand schedule. Most people use Sunday to grocery shop, clean, etc. which can contribute to the Sunday blues. Mix up your routine and see what works best for you.
  4. Make a new tradition – Monday Funday!
    Plan something fun for the beginning of the week. Some people like to choose one set Monday night activity, like watching a particular TV show or going to a bar’s trivia night. Or, you could change it up weekly. Whatever you do, find something in the week that you will genuinely enjoy.

What have you done to combat the Sunday Blues? Share advice with a comment below.


Super Activity – Life Roles Worksheet

February 2, 2016

Last week, we provided an overview on a relevant career  development theory. Now that you have an understanding of Super’s Life-Span/Life-Space Theory, let’s take a moment to further explore its applicability to real life. We often see individuals dealing with a variety of issues that relate to this theory, including the following:

  • Many fellows have been intensely focused on their role as a “student” or a “trainee” and have a difficult time seeing how their skills and professional identity can transfer to a new role.
  • After a PhD and postdoc, more roles often get added and intensified, sometimes so rapidly that an individual doesn’t recognize that their values around these roles are changing.
  • Even if they do recognize that their values and priorities are changing, they don’t always own them or feel free to acknowledge them. This often happens in part because they have been in environments with less ambiguity and/or complexity.
  • Complexity often comes with additional roles. It can be harder to say what’s important when you are not only considering yourself, but your lab work, your mentor, your partner/spouse/significant other, your child(ren), your ill or aging parents, your leisure pursuits, and the list can go on and on.

Maybe some of these points resonated with you. Combining all of these factors with the need to find another job in a complex and often changing world of work can make things quite challenging to say the least.

As noted, Super’s theory challenges individuals to construct their own identification and understanding of all of their life-space identities. Your life roles will likely change overtime depending on your particular stage of life; however, also remember that not all roles hold the same value to you. Additionally, you might have a co-worker or a boss who highly values a life-space that seems unimportant to you. Given all of this, it can be hard to be introspective and identify what is most meaningful for you, right now in this very moment.

This can also be a useful framework to think about when trying to achieve life balance. A blogger created a Balancing Life Roles Worksheet, where you estimate how much time you currently spend in each role and how much time you would prefer to spend in each role. This can be a good way to keep tally; however, it also often helps to visualize it, so career counselors often recommend a life roles activity.

Draw a large circle on a sheet of paper. Then using this as a pie chart, divide the circle into various “life role wedges” that represent the different “hats” that you wear in your life. The size of the wedges should coincide with the prominence of each role. For example if you feel that a work or family role is how you primarily define yourself, then that role make take up a significant chunk of the circle. See the example below and try it out for yourself.

Image of a pie chart with different colored wedges representing a different life role.


PhD in Depression?

August 31, 2015

According to data from a report out of UC Berkeley, almost half of STEM PhDs are depressed. Additionally, these graduate students reported a lack of optimism in regards to their future career paths. These data are limited to one college campus; however, the study’s author, Galen Panger, believes these results would be replicated elsewhere.   Panger viewed this study as a first step in expanding the conversation about mental health and wellness noting, “Graduate students have unique needs, and we need to expand the mental health conversation beyond mental illness and talk about everyone’s performance and everyone’s well-being.”

Why is graduate school a trigger for anxiety and depression? Graduate students often face many challenges in and out of the academic setting. In the lab, many report tense work environments with advisors as well as a pressure to produce groundbreaking results. Outside the lab, students face financial burdens and can feel isolated from family and friends who don’t quite understand the stressors of academic rigor. These factors can quickly add up, especially for students already vulnerable to mental health disorders.

 
Comic strip of grad school timeline: Impressed! Oppressed. Depressed. Mostly Pressed.
Wellness and self-care are extremely important during graduate studies. A recent keynote presentation at the 2015 GPP Retreat highlighted several points about the importance of paying attention to our own health and well-being. Stress is bound to be a part of life, but it is also important to recognize when stress becomes maladaptive for you. Individuals receive messages of stress through three main ways: body (physical sensations), mind (thoughts/images), and emotions (affect/feelings). Some physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, insomnia, low energy and frequent illness. Emotional symptoms can include feeling easily frustrated, overwhelmed, hopeless or helpless, as well as general moodiness. The cognitive symptoms of stress can include constant worry and racing thoughts and/or feeling the inability to focus or remember. Long-term stress can have many health consequences, such as depression and anxiety.

Life will never be completely stress-free, so how can you more effectively handle stress on a daily basis? Three quick and easy tips to try and incorporate daily include:

  1. Stretching (even at your desk)
  2. Breathing (counting to 5 on your in breath, taking a pause for a moment, and then counting to 7 on your out breath)
  3. Getting up to move around (for several minutes every hour)

Stretching and breathing lower stress hormones and bring on a relaxation response; while moving helps to get blood and endorphins flowing. Practicing mindfulness meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and improve focus. If you are unsure of how to begin practicing meditation, check out these five steps to help you get started.

Another component of developing effective coping mechanisms is to help build resiliency. Resilience won’t make your problems go away but it can help give you the ability to see past them and find more enjoyment in life. Luckily, one can work on developing skills to become more resilient, including:

  • Be proactive
    Don’t ignore your problems or be afraid to ask for help. Identify what isn’t working for you and make a plan to take control of the situation to improve it.
  • Get connected
    Building strong, positive relationships will help provide the support you’ll need in times of stress. Continue to foster the relationships you have and, if needed, seek out new connections in your community.
  • Take care of yourself
    Make time for yourself and nurture your mind, body and spirit in ways you see fit. Try the tips of stretching, breathing, exercise and mediation.

Some of the top predictors of depression according to the Berkeley study were: insufficient sleep, poorer overall health, lower academic engagement, and lower social support. Prioritize your wellness and self-care. The OITE is offering a program on wellness in the beginning of October. If you aren’t at the NIH, you can participate in a MOOC, “How to Survive Your PhD” which will focus on building resilience during grad school. Let us know what tips work for you by commenting below.


Teleguilt

August 24, 2015

Image of a person at a desk in a house.It’s called many things: teleworking, telecommuting, working from home, working remotely. Whatever you call it, it’s on the rise. According to the Telework Research Network, about one in five Americans work from home at least once a week; this number is expected to increase over 60% in the next five years. Teleworking is a growing trend in the workplace because there are many upsides. Teleworkers often report among other things: increased productivity, fewer interruptions from colleagues and more flexibility over the management of their time. While we know you may not be able to do research at home, it is likely you may telework to write papers, analyze data, or think about new project directions.

Teleworking doesn’t only benefit the employee. Employers also benefit from teleworkers. According to Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, the government saved about $32 million last winter when federal employees worked from home during official snow days. Not all companies are on board with working from home though. Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned telework — an announcement that was widely considered controversial. Best Buy followed Yahoo’s lead and ended their flexible work program in 2013. Mayer recently defended this decision by acknowledging “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”

An article “The psychological impact of teleworking: stress, emotions and health” was published in the journal, New Technology, Work and Employment. This article notes some of the benefits of teleworking including: better balance of home and work life, increased flexibility, reduction in commuting, reduced overheads for employer, increased skill base for employer, and increased productivity. On the other hand, the article also details some of the challenges that come with teleworking.

Telework Problems

  1. Social isolation
    One of the most commonly cited disadvantages to teleworking even with technological tethers like IM, email, phone calls and Skype.
  2. Presenteeism
    Meaning not just an increase in working longer hours but also working when sick as well. Presenteesim is an issue for office workers who feel pressured to come to work when sick, but this can be an even bigger challenge for teleworkers when co-workers can’t ‘see’ how unwell they are.
  3. Lack of support
    The article specifically mentions technical support in this section since technology is the key for successful teleworking; however, support could also mean supervisory support in decision-making as well.
  4. Career progression
    The importance of face time has been perpetuated through the years and through different sectors of employment. Turns out it might be true since people who worked from home were promoted at half the rate of their office worker colleagues.
  5. Blurring of boundaries
    Traditionally, the commute from work to home allowed for a role transition to occur. There is often a spillover effect for office workers who transfer both negative and positive emotions from work to home, but this can be an even bigger challenge for the teleworker.

Anybody who works remotely will also disclose another secret disadvantage: guilt. This teleguilt comes from a fear that your co-workers or your boss are thinking that you aren’t pulling your weight. You can feel this fear while sitting at work, but the teleworker often fears that everyone thinks they are lounging around their house in pajamas and not putting in enough hours. This guilt and fear often fuels teleworkers to work even more hours to “prove” that they are working. This makes the traditional long hours that scientists log even worse!

How can you combat teleguilt? In general, some strategies for reducing work guilt include:
1. Prioritize work items and immediately take action on the most pressing items.
2. Develop a system (time management/task organizer) that helps keep you consistent.
3. Recognize when you have done all you can for the day/week and then move on.

As you progress in your career, even as a scientist, the options for telework increase. So, keep these strategies in mind as you gain more and more options to work from home. Just remember the sign-off from Garrison Keillor in the Writer’s Almanac, “Be well, do go work, and keep in touch”...sounds like a good mantra for all who work from home.